Above: The revamping Beacon’s Beach staircase will remain on hold as city officials look towards Leucadia Streetscape. File photo
ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council is poised to defund a controversial proposed staircase at Beacon’s Beach and is considering borrowing $22 million to finance the construction of its major capital project, the Leucadia Streetscape.
As part of the proposed capital improvement project budget the council is considering at its May 22 meeting, staff is proposing — with the council’s direction — redirecting the $3.4 million for the project to the El Portal pedestrian and bicycle underpass project.
“The El Portal project in Tier 1 (B) for $4.7 million (General Fund portion) will be funded partially by using the funding previously appropriated to the Beacon’s project in the amount of $3.4 million. The Beacon’s project will be de-funded until reconsidered by Council,” the staff report states.
The City Council decided to defund the project at its March goal setting and priority workshop. The Planning Commission voted once in July and again in December against the staircase, which staff recommended constructing to avoid a bluff-top collapse that could destroy the beach’s iconic switchback staircase and parking lot.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear said the decision frees up money to pursue the El Portal undercrossing, a key mobility project for the city that she considers part of the overarching overhaul of Coast Highway 101, known as the Leucadia Streetscape.
“With limited funds we had to prioritize,” Blakespear said. “The Leucadia Streetscape is a high priority for all the local elected officials. At our goal setting session we agreed in concept to defunding that staircase project, which was twice rejected by the Planning Commission, in order to get the funding together to build the Streetscape.”
That project — which includes the construction of several roundabouts, trails, parking areas and the reduction of travel lanes along North Coast Highway 101 — will likely take the issuance of bonds to complete, unless it can find grant money to defray some of the costs, city staff said in the budget staff report.
While the city is expected to have strong revenue projections over the next five years, staff said it wouldn’t be enough to pay for all of the city’s project goals.
“While these projections indicate a financially healthy city, it is insufficient to support the planned capital program in the next few years without issuing debt,” the staff report states. “For this reason, staff anticipates that it will be necessary to continue to seek grants or to borrow approximately $22 million in FY 2020-2021.”
The latter recommendation is likely to reignite simmering concerns over the project, which were a focal point of the 2018 election. Opponents of the project argued that one of the reasons to reject the streetscape was its heavy price tag.
Opponents of the project, however, did not fare well at the ballot box as incumbent Mark Muir and council and mayoral challengers Tony Brandenburg and John Paul Elliott — who all campaigned against the project — lost their respective races.
The proposed capital improvement budget, which amounts to more than $60 million over the next six years, proposes to fund the following projects.
North Coast Highway 101 Streetscape — $17.806 million
El Portal Pedestrian/Bike Underpass project — $10.184 million
Housing Element Update — $1 million
Circulation Element — $590,000
Tech Infrastructure Replacement — $458,354
El Camino Real – Mobility/Striping Improvements — $410,000
South Coast Highway 101 Safety and Mobility Enhancements — $400,000
B Street Sidewalk Project — $353,549
Balour Drive Corridor Improvements — $350,000
Mackinnon ADA Sidewalk project — $302,000
General Mobility Improvements — $300,000
Safe Routes 2 School Program — $267,803 in the first year; $200,000 in the second year
Storm Drain Repair — $250,000
Cottonwood Creek Stormwater Basin Cleaning — $200,000
Santa Fe Drive – HSIP Improvements — $199,000
Update Inclusionary Ordinance — $100,000
Vulcan Avenue Traffic Calming Study/Implementation — $100,000
The proposed budget also calls for a proposed roundabout at Leucadia Boulevard and Hygeia Avenue, which was funded at just under $1 million, to receive $1.5 million.
The council will discuss the budget at 4 p.m. May 22 at City Council chambers.